Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Elven Legacy - First Impressions

Wow, this new version of Battle for Wesnoth sure is impressive! Wait, hang on a moment, this is Elven Legacy!

For those of you unfamiliar with the open source classic, Battle for Wesnoth is a fantasy turn-based strategy game on a hexagonal grid. EL is also a fantasy turn-based strategy game on a hexagonal grid. In fact, the core gameplay of the two is darn near identical. Recruit units that can move about and attack enemies. Capture towns and villages to get gold. Only one (land) unit can occupy a hex. Units can level up to gain new abilities and stats. Gameplay proceeds one battle at a time, and there is next to no game outside of battle. Click your next battle on the map, and you're off!

There are some slight differences between the games. In Wesnoth, units cost an initial amount of gold to recruit, as well as gold per turn. The number of units on the map are limited only by whether you can afford to pay them. In EL, units cost only an initial sum or gold, and there is a hard limit as to how many units can be on a map, although they can be swapped with reserves (I believe, I haven't actually yet had the opportunity to do so.) The method of obtaining gold is slightly different. In Wesnoth, villages give a certain amount of gold per turn. In EL, you get a lump sum of gold when you capture a village and nothing more.

Healing also differs between the two games. In Wesnoth, you can heal by resting, standing next to a healing unit, or standing in a village, as well as unit-specific stuff like trolls regenerating and the like. It should be noted that in EL, every unit is a collection of individual soldiers. So, you can wounded soldiers by resting, and you can restock your dead comrades with recruits if you're close enough to a village. Restocking does cost gold, however, and the unit's experience drops on account of the green soldiers coming in.

Obviously, then, Wesnoth puts much more emphasis on capturing and maintaining villages. Villages in Wesnoth are not just valuable defensive points, they are the backbone of your army. In EL, however, villages serve no purpose other than their defensive value, and one may discard them after their capture so long as there isn't an extreme risk of enemy troops getting behind your front lines.

Wesnoth has another unique feature that makes it more of a "prepare and then strike" game. Time. Time passes in Wesnoth, and certain units are weak at night and strong at day, and vice versa. The emphasis in Wesnoth is waiting and defending and bolstering your army whilst you're weak, and attacking when you're strong again. Without this time feature, EL seems faster-paced and more combat oriented.

EL of course offers some strategic possibilities not available in Wesnoth, most notably a second plane of battle. EL features air units that can fly around and occupy the same hex as land units, which means they can fly past one's front lines and attack your rear. EL archers are also able to attack from a distance, and if they are positioned next to an allied unit that is being attacked, they will let loose to give their allies some covering fire (a feature which, to my knowledge, debuted in Squaresoft's classic SaGa Frontier II.)

EL is of course prettier, and voice acted fairly competently, although in the tutorial at least the on-screen dialogue doesn't always match the spoken dialogue. The soundtrack has an entirely different flavor from Wesnoth. Wesnoth's music is mainly battle marches, whereas the music in EL is more ethereal, and, most appropriately, sounds more elven.

EL is certainly a solid strategy title. It isn't, however, anywhere near as complicated as the reviews I've found online make it out to be. It manages to surpass Wesnoth in complexity, as well as, say, Nintendo's Fire Emblem series, but it is nowhere near as complicated as, oh, any of Nippon Ichi's fantastic strategy RPGs (Disgaea, Phantom Brave, La Pucelle...) or even the more mainstream Final Fantasy Tactics. On the other hand, it isn't an RPG and doesn't try to be.

If you'd like a solid strategy game that doesn't try to be anything else, and you also want pretty graphics, this is the game for you. As for myself, I'm a bit miffed paying so much money for a game that barely surpasses free offerings, and one that's way simpler than advertised as well. I shan't stop playing it because of that, though.

Oh, and I think that aside from Tetris, this is the only Russia-developed game I've ever played.

I've only played a couple of missions, and haven't yet dived into multiplayer. Perhaps my impressions of the game will change as I explore more of it!

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